The Minister tasked with developing a drugs strategy for Ireland has said he is willing to partake in further conversations on a cross-border detox facility after visiting the White Oaks facility in Muff.
Minister of State at the Health Department Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD was speaking after hearing from people who have come out of addiction with help from the treatment centre at Derryvane, next to the Donegal-Derry border, on Thursday afternoon.
The Minister- who has responsibility for the south’s drugs strategy- also met with White Oaks founder Fr Neal Carlin and staff from the facility, with Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Health Committee, Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin also in attendance.
Men and women from both sides of the border who have received treatment at White Oaks for addictions including drink, drugs and gambling, relayed their personal, and at times harrowing, stories to the Minister during his visit.
Tens of thousands of people have joined a campaign to have the governments from north and south jointly fund a detox centre at White Oaks in the wake of a number of local tragedies whereby people with addiction issues died by suicide.
The Minister was told that at present people from the north have to pay for treatment, while White Oaks is accessible to medical card holders in the Republic.
Fr Carlin said the new cancer facility being built in Derry demonstrated how the two governments could work effectively together for the betterment of people facing the same serious health issues on either side of the border.
Mr Ó Ríordáin, speaking afterwards, said that being relatively new to his post, he was still finding his feet and wanted to meet as many service providers as possible to get a feel for what was working in practice.
He said that one of the suggestions put to him during recent discussions is further co-operation between the two jurisdictions and to make services such as White Oaks more widely available.
“I am interested in what they have to say about further conversations having to take place and I am quite happy to do that,” Ó Ríordáin said, adding:
“I will listen to anything anybody has to say as long as it makes sense.”
He added that there seemed to be a picture emerging in the Republic of some gaps in provision in terms of intervention and after care.
White Oaks Addiction Counsellor Stephen McLaughlin explained to the Minister that while “Derry is literally on our doorstep”, there was a difficulty in terms of ease of access for people from the north.
“When people come from the north, because it’s a different jurisdiction, it’s almost like a iron curtain,” he said. “That is one of the issues we are constantly trying to address.”
Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin meanwhile told the Minister that 52,000 people have signed a petition for a detox facility locally.
She told him: “The stark reality is addiction doesn’t recognise borders. Health is supposed to be an area of co-operation. We have a vital service here and yet we come up against obstacles in relation to both departments working together. This shouldn’t be.”
Speaking to the Journal at White Oaks, Ms McLaughlin added:
“I think it is important that the Minister has taken the time out to visit this important facility.
“I think all of us as a society are struggling with issues around addiction. We do have a facility here right on our doorstep which, unfortunately, is functioning in terms of the rehab element but the detox element which is needed is not operational so I’m pleased the Minister has taken the time and I think responded very quickly in relation to this and I certainly hope we can see a willingness coming out of this conversation to get this detox operation fully functioning and delivering for the north west region.”
She added: “I’ve been lobbying strongly both departments north and south to take a proactive role in this.
“We are told that health is an area of co-operation, and yet we have a facility here where one part is functioning and the other part is not despite major, major issues across society and all of our communities.
“Addiction doesn’t stop at borders, it doesn’t stop at boundaries. We have the facility here and if the willingness is there, I think we can make the detox element operational.”